Monday, June 26, 2017

Time to re-evaluate the number of Institutions of Higher Learning!

Weekly Opinion Editorial

by Steve Fair

     The Higher Education lobby in Oklahoma says Sooner tax payers are not funding higher education like the rest of the country.  University of Oklahoma President David Boren and University of Central Oklahoma President Don Betz both were quoted as saying that Oklahoma ranked ‘dead last’ in the U.S. in funding higher education.  Turns out that ain’t so.
     Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs President Jonathan Small said, “These claims are not supported by the facts.”  Small cited a study by Illinois State University on Higher Ed funding which shows Oklahoma ranks #31 among the 50 states.  The funding report, which has been published since 1960, is non-partisan.  Small asked Boren and Betz to retract their statements.   
     Oklahoma Higher Education has taken $112.2 million in cuts this year and next years budget has over $35 million more in cuts.  "These severe budget cuts have resulted in forced furloughs and the reduction of academic programs, personnel, student services and college degree completion initiatives," Oklahoma state Higher Education Chancellor Glen Johnson said. Still Oklahoma Higher Ed will get $866 million in taxpayer money next year or about 12.5% of the total budget.  To compensate for the loss in appropriated monies, the State Board of Regents will consider increasing tuition and fees by an average of 5%.  The regents estimated the increase will cost full-time college students in Oklahoma about $400 more per year. 
     According to the U.S. Department of Education, Oklahoma has the ninth worst college six year graduation rates in the country.  Nationally 44% of students who start college end up with a sheepskin.  In Oklahoma, that number is less than 30%.  Among the 4 year regional universities, Cameron University has the lowest graduation rate- around 20%. 
     First, Oklahoma Higher Education should be audited.  If it’s true they are underfunded, then the audit will show that.  If there is waste, it will show that.  Let the chips fall where they may.        
     Second, Higher Education should proactively initiate consolidation.  Oklahoma has eleven regional universities, twelve community colleges, plus OU and OSU.  Many of those institutions have satellite campuses.  That is a lot of brick and mortar.  Each one has a ton of faculty and staff making good salaries with benefits.  With the growth of ‘distance’ learning, is it prudent for Oklahoma taxpayers to fund all this infrastructure? 
     Third, when will education (common ed or higher ed) come to the table with a plan that doesn’t include more money?  It’s past time for education leaders in Oklahoma to come up with a 10 year plan for improving education in the Sooner state that doesn’t include building more buildings and giving themselves raises. 
     President Ronald Reagan said, “If you serve a child a rotten hamburger in America, federal, state, and local agencies will investigate you, summon you, close you down, whatever.  But if you provide a child with a rotten education, nothing happens, except that you’re liable to be given more money to do it with.  Well, we’ve discovered that money alone isn’t the answer.”

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